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Joe Biden's Middle East Policy

Vice Presidential Candidate Joe Biden on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and More


Updated March 28, 2010

Joe Biden’s Middle East Policy Summed Up

Barack Obama Joe Biden were elected president and vice president in November 2008.

Born in 1942, Biden, a lawyer, was elected to the Senate in 1972, becoming one of its most accomplished and respected foreign policy experts. He chairs the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden balances Obama’s generally scant foreign policy expertise as well as his equally scant accomplishments in the Senate.

Biden’s Middle East policy aligns closest to that of Jimmy Carter: Negotiations first and foremost, enhanced by large infusions of non-military aid where necessary—including the willingness to negotiate with regimes such as Iran. Biden is no dove, however. He voted to authorize war on Iraq in 2002. He soon turned into one of the war’s harshest critics. He has since called for the partition of Iraq. He opposed the “surge” and says that, despite lower levels of violence, staying in Iraq is “killing us.” He is generally an opponent of the use of force as a policy alternative, especially pre-emptive force.

Here’s a comprehensive run-down of Biden’s Middle East policy, including the evolution of his various stances on the Iraq war going back to 2002.

2002: On Authorizing the Iraq War

Biden was among the 77 senators (and among the 23 Democrats) who voted to authorize war on Iraq on Oct. 11, 2002. He made two points: “The President has not asked us to go to war. He has said he wants the power to be able to go to war. It seems completely consistent with that request that we say: Yes, Mr. President, you have that power to go to war; you can do that within 1 year. If, in fact, you go to war in 1 year, you can extend that one year. Let me put it this way. If we are two years down the road still fooling around with Iraq, then my friends from Connecticut and other places have been so dead wrong about what we are supposed to do that it would be amazing.”

But Biden was also cautious, and opposed to using the authorization for war as an endorsement for President Bush’s doctrine of pre-emptive strikes:

“I find myself supporting this resolution but worried that supporting this resolution will get us into real trouble. What we have here, I argue, as the rationale for going after Saddam, is that he signed a cease-fire agreement. The condition for his continuing in power was the elimination of his weapons of mass destruction, and the permission to have inspectors in to make sure he had eliminated them. He expelled those inspectors. So he violated the cease-fire; ergo, we have authority--not under a doctrine of preemption. This will not be a preemptive strike, if we go with the rest of the world. It will be an enforcement strike. I hope we don't walk out of here with my voting for this final document and somebody 6 months from now or 6 years from now will say we have the right now to establish this new doctrine of preemption and go wherever we want anytime.” See his complete Senate floor comments .

2006: Biden Calls for Partitioning Iraq

In 2006, he said Iraq should partition into three region: Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite.

“The idea, as in Bosnia,” Biden wrote, “is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group -- Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab -- room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests. We could drive this in place with irresistible sweeteners for the Sunnis to join in, a plan designed by the military for withdrawing and redeploying American forces, and a regional nonaggression pact.”

2008: Surge or no Surge, Iraq Is “Killing Us”

On April 9, 2008, on NBC’s Today show with Matt Lauer, Biden dismissed the notion that President Bush’s “surge” in Iraq was a success: “Look, what I said was that the military side of the surge works. It's brought down violence. But we went from drowning to treading water. And now we're having 30 to 40 Americans die a month, 225 a month wounded. and we're spending $3 billion a month with no end in sight, Matt. They have no plan how to get down below 140,000. They have no plan how to end this war and they have no political prescription as to how to bring the parties together.”

Asked if he was “okay with the fact that withdrawing troops might take us backwards in Iraq,” Biden replied: “No. Look, Matt, we can debate whether or not the cost of drawing down troops will hurt. That's debatable. For example, as many military experts argued if we were to withdraw gradually and more substantially from Iraq, that al Qaeda would be hurt more than if we stayed. I asked yesterday -- I asked our ambassador and I asked Petraeus, where is the greatest threat from al Qaeda, in Afghanistan where we don't have enough troops to fight them, by their own admission, or in Iraq? They said they're more dangerous in Afghanistan. We don't debate the cost of staying, Matt. The costs of staying are immense, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said...it's killing us.”

Afghanistan: “Surge” Required

Biden supports what he calls a “strategic surge” in Afghanistan: “We need more troops—but not many,” he says. “A single brigade would make an enormous difference. The real need is for the right kind of troops: we desperately need more Special Operations Forces, more civil affairs and intelligence specialists, more Foreign Area Officers. We also need more hardware: more fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters for mobility, more surveillance drones, more satellite tasking, more [armored vehicles] for troop protection.

Biden calls for a “Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan: “We need more money for reconstruction in Afghanistan: We spend about $1.5 billion per year, which on a per capita basis is far, far less than we’ve spent on reconstruction efforts in the Balkans and East Timor, or just about any other post-conflict zone. We need more funds, but we also need to use our funds better. We need a Special Investigator-General for Afghan Reconstruction. The Afghans are patient people, but they’re not seeing an effort worthy of a superpower.”

Next Page: Joe Biden on Iran's nukes, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Pakistan.

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